Who am I?
At the time of writing I have just celebrated my 47th birthday; I am a teacher by profession, married, mother of two – 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. I have ADHD and dyslexia. As I begin my blog, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my story.
Where have I been?
Although my parents were not aware of my difference, they were very encouraging and supportive of me, helping me aim higher than I thought I could reach. I survived school – not the best years of my life, I was often confused, and due to my impulsivity was often involved in some drama, and had trouble navigating friendships. I was a chronic overthinker, and painfully sensitive. I always felt different, out of step, desperate not to be ‘caught out’. It was not all bad, there are some good memories, some enduring friendships, academically I held my head up, despite the ‘careless mistakes’ and ‘lapses in focus / concentration’ – enough to get to the next stage and into Uni, which was in Wales.
University was an opportunity to explore my interests – which turned out to be major world faiths (niche I know!) and on the whole it was a better time, I was learning to be more at ease with myself but I still had the feeling I was on the ‘outside’. It ended well, I secured a 2:1 in Religious Studies, and headed off to Cambridge to complete my PGCE on the suggestion of my Tutor. I was not sure what to do with myself, but knew I needed to find gainful employment to secure my independence. I trusted my Tutor, and he thought I would a good teacher, so I decided to apply to Cambridge thinking that they would know if I would be any good – resolving that if they offered me a place I would go… well – they did, and I went … and I loved it ( with hindsight I realise that of course it was ideal for my ADHD brain; talking about what I love all day long, never having the same day or lesson twice, moving around, working with developing brains, the government regularly moving the goalposts / introducing initiatives etc so always having to reinvent …)
I spent over 20 years teaching RE in a variety of secondary school settings – city comprehensive, all girls to independent boarding … I feel really privileged to have had that time with some phenomenal young people, I was a good teacher and still get great feedback from former students now. I did struggle with careless mistakes, details and sustaining my attention but I thought everyone was having the same experience, my impulsivity often caused me to spread myself too thin, and I frequently tortured myself with imposter syndrome thoughts.
I felt strongly that I was made ‘teacher shaped’ but had to step away from it in order to support our son, whose own education was getting more and more precarious. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in Year 5. He had stood out from his peers from the time he was at Nursery, but I had no idea that there was an explanation for his boisterous, risky and sometimes aggressive behaviour, I thought I had ‘maximum boy’…
Oh my, when I look back, I am literally astonished that his ADHD was not identified sooner. I did ask his teachers at several points whether they thought there was an underlying reason for his behaviour (in those excruciating meetings discussing the latest incident…) and they always said no. Finally, and thankfully his Year 4 teacher was an ADHD parent, and she saw it, and told me – I will remember that moment forever, in the playground at the end of the school day. At that time I had a vague awareness of what it stood for, but little else – fortunately the teacher had prepared some information for me to read, which I did immediately on returning home. It was such an epiphany – the diagnostic criteria literally described our lived experience with this bold, vivacious, dynamic child. It felt like a huge relief to finally understand why he behaved the way he did. Next stop was the GP, and referral secured – he was diagnosed with severe ADHD about 7 months later.
Apart from medication – we were on our own, not even a leaflet of advice / next steps. I was so fortunate to find support from a local charity The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust. I attended a ‘Time Out for ADHD and Autism’ six-week course and accessed private coaching within the first year of our son’s diagnosis, which transformed our family’s experience. It was a steep, but welcome, learning curve as it brought understanding, shining a light on what was behind his behaviour and how to help him manage his symptoms more effectively. Once I understood how heritable ADHD is I planted the responsibility firmly at my Husband’s door, I still had no idea I was living the same condition myself, after all ‘I was nothing like him’!
I joined the ADD-vance team as a specialist parental coach and trainer, and ADHD was now my hyper focus – reading, attending webinars and CPD, and following the ADHD Foundation, and attending their annual conferences. It was at one of these that I was introduced to QbCheck. I was curious and thought it might be useful for some of the families and professionals I had been working with. QBTech were very generous with their time and allowed me to visit their offices and demonstrated the QBcheck, and they offered me a test so I would know how it felt to experience it. Although in my heart I was aware that I struggled with attention and could be quite impulsive, I did not suspect that I had ADHD until I was presented with my results and discovered my symptoms were very high compared to my peers. Long story short, this led to a formal diagnosis in 2017, and since she was very similar to me it alerted us to the possibility of our 16-year-old daughter having ADHD too. Following her own QBcheck, she was assessed and diagnosed just as she began her A levels.
Where am I going?
Late diagnoses such as these are too often the case for women with ADHD and this can be very damaging. I am passionate about using my experience to help girls and women grow into their symptoms and learn to see ADHD as a strength, fuelling their drive and success. I started The ADD-vantage as a vehicle to spread awareness through social media (Instagram @theaddvantage_; Facebook -The ADD-vantage; Pippa Simou on Linkedin) and offer support though the closed Facebook group and our regular online chat meetings, as well as to offer coaching and consultancy services to women and girls who are living with ADHD. This blog will be a personal take on living well with the ADHD, sharing information, tips and working arounds, I hope you enjoy it!